|NBA Power Rankings, 4/8||04.08.11 at 6:41 pm ET|
1. Chicago (58-20): The good news: With their 16-point victory against the Celtics on Thursday night, the Bulls emphatically proved they have the best player in the NBA, the best coach in the NBA and, most importantly, the best team in the NBA. The bad news: They also ensured that Chicago fans will be forced to awkwardly walk past a weird half-bust/half-statue thing of Scottie Pippen.
2. LA Lakers (55-23): In a fantastic profile of Lakers coach Phil Jackson, we learned three important facts: 1) He really is retiring at season’s end; 2) Upon meeting Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant told his idol, “I can take you 1-on-1″; and 3) A full-bearded man should never wear shorts this short. If two three-peats with Kobe and the Lakers to go along with the six titles with Jordan and the Bulls would be a perfect symmetry to Jackson’s career, how much sweeter would a Celtics title be for Boston fans?
3. Boston (54-24): The Bulls embarrassed the Celtics Thursday night, but the C’s are still 8-3 against the top-five NBA teams, 6-1 against their potential first-round opponents (76ers and Knicks) and 3-0 against their probable second-round opponent (Heat). As Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics also lost to the Cavaliers by 29 in the home stretch of the 2009-10 regular season. If that’s not cause for optimism, then maybe Rick Pitino was right about the negativity in this town.
4. San Antonio (60-19): Are the Spurs the team that started the season 57-13 or the squad that lost six straight from March 25 to Arpil 1? Does anybody still have confidence that San Antonio can knock off the Lakers in the Western Conference finals? Will Eva Longoria get a cut of Tony Parker‘s playoff share as part of their divorce? So many questions still for this team.
5. Miami (54-24): After Derrick Rose and the Bulls obliterated the Celtics for their 17th victory in 19 games and the Heat lost to the Cavaliers and Bucks in a span of eight days, don’t hold your breath for a response from anyone who believed LeBron James deserved this season’s MVP honor.
6. Oklahoma City (52-26): I’m guessing Kendrick Perkins‘ 31 rebounds in the Thunder’s last two games (both wins) aren’t going to dissuade the “What was Danny Ainge thinking?” support group from blaming the Celtics’ loss to the Bulls on Perk’s absence. Perhaps his nine points on 4-of-15 shooting and four turnovers will help. (Still, 31 rebounds in 59 minutes? Wow.)
7. Dallas (53-21): Mavericks bigwig Mark Cuban ripped the same people who helped him brand his own image as the wild-and-crazy billionaire owner, borrowing some language from his buddy Charlie Sheen and claiming journalists have turned into “page view trolls.” Risking being called a turncoat, I’d like to point out that his team has lost four straight. (By the way, that Charlie Sheen reference definitely wasn’t included for the page views … or was it?)
8. Orlando (50-29): He might always be smiling on the court, but apparently Dwight Howard is constantly complaining, too (in his defense, I’d be pretty pissed if somebody hacked my arms 600-plus this season while I tried to type on this keyboard). His 18 technical fouls leads the NBA by three. Are we sure it was Hakeem Olajuwon who mentored Howard this offseason and not Rasheed Wallace?
9. Denver (48-30): Even Nuggets coach George Karl admitted he’d rather not face the Thunder in the first round — “I just think right now our speed might have more effect against Dallas than it will against Oklahoma City” — yet Denver fans still believe Oklahoma City is a good matchup for them in the playoffs. I mean, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook only combined for 50 points in their seven-point victory in Denver on Tuesday.
10. New Orleans (45-33): Where does Chris Paul leading the Hornets into the playoffs with a starting lineup that now features Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor rank among the season’s most impressive performances? When you consider Deron Williams shot his way out of a better situation in Utah, you’ve got to credit Paul for not bitching more about his situation in New Orleans.
11. Portland (46-33): If the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers on Friday night, the loss could drop Portland to the Western Conference’s No. 7 seed — which means they’d be slated to face Kobe Bryant & Co. in the first round. Double defeat.
12. Atlanta (44-34): Red-shouldered hawks could be on the verge of making the endangered species list. Now that three years have passed since a young Atlanta squad took the top-seeded Celtics to seven games in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, the red-shouldered Hawks might be close to making that list, too.
13. Memphis (44-34): The Grizzlies have won seven of their last nine games, including victories against the Celtics and Spurs. With all of the team’s success since his injury, I’m sure Rudy Gay jersey sales have plummeted. Oh, wait, nevermind …
14. New York (40-38): Since the two teams meet in the regular-season finale, it’s quite possible a Celtics win/Knicks loss could pit the division rivals against each other in a 2 vs. 7 playoff matchup, while a Knicks win/Celtics loss could set up a 3 vs. 6 battle between the two teams. Wrap your head around that one.
16. Houston (41-38): The Rockets have been essentially eliminated from the NBA playoffs for the second straight season, and somewhere general manager Daryl Morey swears for the final time as he signs Yao Ming‘s final paycheck.
17. Indiana (36-43): The Pacers clinched the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Let me be the first to congratulate them on losing in the first round to the Bulls. Hats off to you, Indiana.
18. Phoenix (38-40): While Steve Nash and Rondo have traded places atop the NBA’s assist leaders for the past couple weeks, with four games to play Nash has taken an 11.4-11.2 lead over the C’s floor general. Considering this is the only title anybody in Phoenix will be playing for, it’s kinda sad how far the Suns have fallen.
19. Utah (37-42): So, the Andrei Kirilenko era could be over in Utah. A free agent this summer, he’s not expected to return before the Jazz season finale. Considering nobody else in the NBA wears No. 47, he’s free to sign with anybody and still maintain the (fantastic) AK-47 nickname.
20. Golden State (35-44): Warriors players handed out free train tickets to Bay Area commuters on Thursday. How else are they supposed to convince people to come watch them play in April?
21. Milwaukee (32-46): Nobody fears the deer this year … except the Heat. But everybody fears a deer in heat. Ironic, no?
23. LA Clippers (31-48): Perhaps when Clippers center Chris Kaman tweeted earlier this season, “Qdoba or Chipotle? I am a Qdoba kinda guy,” it was a sign that his team would spend the rest of the year going down the toilet.
24. Detroit (27-51): Is there any chance the new Pistons owner will recreate that “Home Alone” scene when he fires John Kuester? “I’m gonna give you to the count of 10 to get your ugly, yellow, no-good Kuester off my property before I pump your guts full of lead! One, two, ten!” Fingers crossed.
25. New Jersey (24-54): The Garden State named a 4-year-old kid Governor? Rutgers University paid Snooki $32,000 to speak about hard work? The Nets are just as bad with Deron Williams as without him? There must be something in the water in New Jersey. Maybe it’s all the hair gel on the Shore.
26. Sacramento (23-55): When Spurs guard Gary Neal is old and gray, he can always tell his kids that he made the final Kings poster in Sacramento.
27. Washington (21-57): After their recent three-game win streak, I’ve gotta ask: Who would’ve thought that the federal government would shut down before the Wizards? It just makes you want sing the theme song to “Team America.”
28. Toronto (21-57): After giving up 138 to the Warriors and 131 to the Knicks, the Raptors are now giving up 105.9 points a game. Unfortunately for Toronto basketball fans, points scored in Canada are worth the same in the United States.
29. Cleveland (17-61): Is it possible that the Cavaliers’ two-game winning streak combined with the Indians’ three-game sweep of the Red Sox will go down as the highlight of the year for the city’s sports fans? Cleveland rocks!
30. Minnesota (17-62): In the race for the most ping pong balls in the 2011 NBA draft, the Timberwolves have captured first place. The only thing that could possibly make the 2009 Ricky Rubio/Jonny Flynn fiasco worse is if David Kahn drafts another point guard (Kyrie Irving) with his potential No. 1 pick.